Leilani’s biography, A Whisper Past: Childless after Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta, was published in 2014.
Background—Alberta’s dark chapter
Between 1928 and 1972, close to 3,000 people were sterilized based on IQ and socio- economic status through Alberta’s Eugenics Program. Peter Lougheed’s government, appalled by what previous administrations had overseen, repealed the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1972. The Eugenics Board was dismantled shortly after. In the late 1990s, 700 to 800 sterilization victims drew global attention by filing cases against the Alberta government following Leilani Muir’s historic 1996 lawsuit.
Alberta’s Sterilization Act was brought back into focus by the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project that took place at the University of Alberta from 2010 to 2015. Thirty people—academic scholars and sterilization survivors including Leilani O’Malley—were involved in this federally funded 5-year research project. Project members worked with communities to develop accessible resources to shed light on the history of eugenics in Canada.
The Book Project
Leilani O’Malley Muir’s biography is based on her handwritten journal. A highly personal account of her life, her book incorporates key trial transcript excerpts, now available to the public for the first time. The transcripts shed a different light on her experiences and contain fascinating testimony from key witnesses who were part of or studied the history of eugenic sterilization in Alberta—a dark chapter in the province’s history that many Canadians find hard to believe. Muir’s book also features images drawn from the author’s and archival collections, and from media stories.
Born in 1944 in Calgary, Alberta, Muir starts her story by trying to unravel her family tree, a mystery that remains unclear to this day. She explores memories of an exceptionally abusive childhood, and how her life was spared when her family abandoned her at the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives (PTS) in Red Deer, Alberta at the age of ten.
Themes of courage, determination, depersonalization and rising above and defeating misfortune run through Muir’s inspiring biography. The author describes life inside the PTS, trying to lead a normal life on her own after leaving the institution, how it felt to discover when trying to conceive that she’d been sterilized by the doctors at the PTS, and taking control of her life by suing the Alberta Government for wrongful treatment, detention and sterilization. The events leading up to Muir’s lawsuit, its aftermath, and her life after the trial round out her story.
By sharing her personal story with the world, Leilani hoped to shed new light on Canada’s shameful eugenics history and encourage other abused people, especially children, to speak out.
Leilani O’Malley Muir, author
Douglas Wahlsten, editor, is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, with a specialty in genetics and behavior. He is widely published in a number of research areas including eugenics and behavioural and neural genetics.
Lou Morin, editor, earned a B.A. at the University of Alberta and studied heritage conservation in Paris. Since then she has provided database, website, book publishing, writing and editing services to private and public organizations.